Meir Ben-Dov, Historical Atlas of Jerusalem. Translated by David Louvish.
(New York and London: Continuum, 2002), xvi, 400 pp. ISBN 0-8264-1379-X. $50.00
Reviewed by Ryan Byrne
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

One might best characterize Meir Ben-Dov’s Historical Atlas of Jerusalem as a popular coffee-table book offered for sale at a scholarly price were it not for the absence of lavish and colorful pictures. One is inclined to give author and publisher full benefit of the doubt that this work seeks out a lay audience, but, for a volume priced at US $50, consumers of popular history or archaeology should expect more glitz for their money. The solicitation of peer review in this medium, however, suggests a more erudite intent and demands a fiercer level of scrutiny. If the author intended to produce a scholarly English edition of the antecedent Hebrew version, there is much to answer for. Historical Atlas of Jerusalem is neither a particularly useful atlas nor a reliable history—if the systematic citation of data or the attribution of proper scholarly credit qualifies a work as reliable.

The search for a single footnote or other substantive supporting documentation throughout nearly 400 pages of narrative text, spanning the Bronze Age to the turn of the second millennium ce, may exhaust and frustrate the reader. A few examples will suffice. Concluding a discussion of Abdi-Heba’s Jerusalem, Ben-Dov cites the city’s “relatively prosperous population” (p. 37) based on the distribution of LB sherds, but he offers no citations of specific finds or find-spots. Ben-Dov elsewhere states that the “territory of the city-state of Jerusalem may be estimated from the list of places mentioned in the El-Amarna letters: its area was about half that of the province of Yehud (Judah) under Persian rule” (p. 38) without mention of Finkelstein’s important study of territorial spheres in the Amarna letters.1 This he does, moreover, without reference to Na’aman’s seminal article on responsible and irresponsible inferences from the Abdi-Heba corpus.2 For the Iron Age, Ofer’s signature survey work in the Judean Hills goes unmentioned and, as far as I can tell, unconsulted.3 Indeed, Na’aman, Finkelstein, and Ofer are nowhere to be found in the bibliography. The neglect of numerous other sine qua non studies seriously undermines the value of this book even for the lay reader interested in a scholar’s informed condensation of important, much less current, research on Jerusalem and its hinterland.

The content of the book is presented by chapter as follows: Chapter 1, “Before the City Existed: The First Steps;” Chapter 2, “Canaanite Jerusalem: From Yqr’m to Araunah (3000–1000 bce);” Chapter 3, “Jerusalem in the First Temple Period: The House of David, from David to Zedekiah (1000–586 bce);” Chapter 4, “Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period: Under Persia, Greece and Rome: From Zerubbabel to Johanan ben Zakkai, or from Cyrus to Titus (538 bce - 70 ce);” Chapter 5, “Jerusalem‚ City of Legions: Aelia Capitolina (70–333 ce);” Chapter 6, “Jerusalem under the Cross: The Byzantine City (333–638 ce);” Chapter 7, “Jerusalem in the Embrace of the Muslim Crescent: Ancient Islam (638–1099);” Chapter 8, “Jerusalem, Capital of the Crusader Kingdom (1099–1260);” Chapter 9, “Jerusalem Restored to Islam‚ The Mamluks (1260–1515);” Chapter 10, “Jerusalem under Ottoman Rule (1515–1917);” Chapter 11, “Jerusalem under the British Mandate (1917–1948);” Chapter 12, “Jerusalem Divided and Reunited (1948–1989);” and Chapter 13, “Jerusalem at the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1989–2000).”

Since my expertise does not permit a substantive analysis of the treatment of later periods, I will confine my specific remarks to the Bronze and Iron Ages. Chapter 2 is an uneven assortment of discussions of legitimate documentary evidence for second-millennium bce Jerusalem (the Urusalim references in the Egyptian execration texts and Amarna letters) as well as patriarchal anecdotes of dubious historicity (e.g., Melchizedek of Genesis 14, the sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah) all arranged in putatively chronological order. The author approaches neither the biblical nor the extra-biblical documentary evidence critically. This approach compromises the integrity of the chapter specifically and characterizes the book as a whole. The illustrations are also strangely selected. While there are no diagrams of the MB fortifications (cf. p. 31), the most notable Bronze Age architecture heretofore discovered in Jerusalem, the reader will otherwise find a drawing of the Beth Alpha synagogue mosaic (p. 34) ostensibly to ornament the aforementioned reference to Mount Moriah. Particularly unsettling is the face-value deference to the biblical depiction of Jerusalem from the time of Joshua to David’s conquest. The same chapter that begins with a sober treatment of execration toponymics ends improbably with a journalistic paraphrase of David’s purchase of the threshing floor for the ark.

Chapter 3 covers the archaeological period of the Iron Age II, beginning with the united monarchy. Ben-Dov apparently attributes the stepped-stone structure in Area G to the eleventh century, but one must infer this date from a photograph caption (p. 45) rather than from any explicit mention of Jerusalem’s only significant late Iron I to early Iron IIA architecture. Following this is a lengthy survey of Solomon’s capital, replete with a full description of the temple as informed by the text of 1 Kings. Here Ben-Dov elects to fill more space with speculative depictions of undiscovered architecture than illustrations and discussion of important extant archaeological remains. Subsequent topics of note include the westward expansion of the city, Warren’s Shaft, the Siloam tunnel, Ramat Rahel, and the necropolis.

Each chapter is abundantly illustrated, although the accompanying text often limits the potential impact of the illustrations. On the whole, both the scholar and lay reader would do better to consult the new Carta edition of the Macmillan atlas, even with its more limited treatment of Jerusalem.4


[1] I. Finkelstein, “The Territorial-Political System of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age,” UF (1996), 221–255.

[2] N. Na’aman, “The Contribution of the Amarna Letters to the Debate on Jerusalem’s Political Position in the Tenth Century BCE,” BASOR 304 (1996), 17–27.

[3] A. Ofer, “ ‘All the Hill Country of Judah’: From a Settlement Fringe to a Prosperous Monarchy,” in I Finkelstein and N. Na’aman, eds., From Nomadism to Monarchy (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994), pp. 92–121; “The Judean Hills in the Biblical Period,” Qadmoniot 115 (1998), 40–52 (Hebrew); “The Monarchic Period in the Judaean Highland,” in A. Mazar, ed., Studies in the Archaeology of the Iron Age in Israel and Jordan (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), pp. 14–37.

[4] Y. Aharoni, M. Avi-Yonah, A. F., Rainey, and Z. Safrai, The Carta Bible Atlas (Jerusalem: Carta, 2000).